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This year's field of Arizona semifinalists for the James Beard Awards didn't yield?a bumper crop of nominees. But it marked a big step for one of the Valley's most important and popular chefs.
After five consecutive years as a semifinalist, Charleen Badman of FnB in Scottsdale has for the first time been named one of five finalists in the "Best Chef:?Southwest"?category for the 2019 James Beard Awards.
"There's something to say about consistency, and there's something to say about getting to the next level," Badman said, expressing surprise and gratitude for her first finalist nod.
From 10 Arizona semifinalists to one James Beard nominee
Badman was one of 10?semifinalists from Arizona spread across six categories of the "long list,"?which was selected by the James Beard Foundation's Restaurant and Chef Award Committee?and announced on February 27.
But she is the only one voted into the finals by the awards'?broader voting body, a secret list?of about 600 industry professionals and food journalists nationwide.
Texas has dominated the "Best Chef — Southwest" category in recent years, and Texas chefs round out the list with?four finalists?— three from Austin and one from San Antonio.
The nomination may come as no surprise to local diners who have followed her work, but Badman knows that there is nothing predictable about the James Beard Awards, and she stresses the importance of never becoming complacent.
'You have to keep pushing'
"I walk away from every service saying that we'll be better,"?Badman said. "You have to keep pushing. If you become satisfied, I think you're done. I've been doing this for more than 30 years, and it's like, how can I make it better?"
Badman attended the 2018?awards ceremony not as a nominee, but as an unofficial ambassador for Arizona cuisine, preparing food for guests at the event. She?relished the opportunity to help expose the industry's stars to the kind of work going on in her home state, she said, and she sees the finalist nomination as an opportunity not only for herself, but as an opening to help educate the nation about Arizona's culinary scene.
"I'm from here and that's important to me,"?Badman said. "As I began traveling and going around, seeing that people were shocked and surprised by what we have to offer, to see them so surprised is actually a disappointment for me. I like sharing stories, and I want to be proud and excited and I want them to know what's happening here."
Badman also makes it clear that while hers is the name on the ballot, the work of many others, from her staff to those who grow her produce,?helped to put her in this position.?
Charleen Badman's work beyond FnB
Badman is thankful for the recognition from the James Beard Foundation, an organization that's inspired some of her projects outside FnB.
Badman?spearheads?the Blue Watermelon Project, an initiative from Slow Food Phoenix that brings local chefs and schools together to improve the quality of meals served to students, while teaching children about healthy food choices and helping them explore and appreciate a wider variety of foods.
The James Beard Foundation operates a program called Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change.?Badman was selected to attend in September 2015, and she is not shy about crediting the program with helping her to make Blue Watermelon a success.
"If I hadn't gone to that boot camp, I'm not sure where it would be, but that just took it to a different level," Badman said. "I think one of the most important things to remember about the Beard Foundation is that they do a lot of great work."
When the James Beard winners will be announced
The ballot is now returned to the same panel that selected the finalists, who will vote again to determine the winners.
The winners of the 2019 James Beard Awards?will be announced at the James Beard Awards Gala on May 6 in Chicago.?
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: James Beard Awards 2019: Arizona chef Charleen Badman among nominees